The world’s self-professed green emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. The EU has lofty environmental ambitions, and its green policies range from stringent emissions standards to generous subsidies for renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Yet despite all of that, over the past decade the EU’s imports of American coal have more than tripled. The WSJ reports:
Low domestic demand has renewed the focus on U.S. exports, which are on track for a record-setting third straight year of more than 100 million tons. The 28-nation EU imported 47.2 million tons of U.S. coal last year, up from 13.6 million tons in 2003. Exports to the U.K. alone are up tenfold in the same period. The U.S. ranked second only to Russia in supplying Europe with coal last year, and the U.S. could further increase its market share if recent political tensions with Moscow disrupt Russian shipments.Germany’s decision to phase out of nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan has also made it a significant buyer of U.S. coal, mostly because the commodity is so inexpensive. […]Since 2003, German imports of U.S. coal have risen to more than 15 million tons from under a million tons. A spokesman for E.ON SE, Germany’s largest power and natural-gas utility, says it now purchases more than four million tons of coal a year, or 17% of its total, from the U.S., up from 800,000 tons in 2010. E.ON operates power plants in several European countries.
Europe can talk all it wants about green-energy policies, but at the end of the day, most of its decisions will come down to the costs. In the U.S., fracking has unlocked massive reserves of natural gas trapped in previously inaccessible shale formations. That’s led to an American gas glut, which means dirt-cheap natural gas can supply our domestic needs. Coal, previously one of the cheapest options around for baseload power generation, can’t compete with the shale boom. U.S. coal producers are looking elsewhere for customers, and they have found a number of very willing buyers across the Atlantic.Heightened tensions with Russia have made the EU nervous about energy security. Germany has turned up its nose at nuclear energy—a source of abundant, zero-carbon baseload electricity. It’s possible that France will do the same, reversing its previous pro-nuclear stance. Moratoriums on fracking abound in Europe, preventing countries on the continent from imitating America’s recent success.Given all that, it’s no wonder that countries like the UK are making coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels around, an increasingly important part of their supposedly “green” energy portfolios.